Vassalboro News: Selectmen, public get first look at fish passage plans at outlet dam

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen and interested area residents got a look at preliminary plans for a fish passage at China Lake’s outlet dam at the June 29 selectmen’s meeting.

The dam in East Vassalboro belongs to the Town of Vassalboro. The fishway will also belong to the town, board Chairman Philip Haines said. The Kennebec Water District, which draws its water from China Lake, plays a role in dam management, and the China Lake water level is governed by a state Department of Environmental Protection order.

Bryan Sojkowski, a fish passage engineer for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, designed the fishway. He does similar work from Maine to Virginia, he said.

Landis Hudson, of American Rivers, a leader of the Alewife Restoration Initiative (ARI) that is planning a clear route for migratory alewives from the Sebasticook River to China Lake, and Sojkowski explained the plans and the many issues they have considered and are considering.

The Denil Fishway Sojkowski showed has two four-foot-wide uphill tracks with baffles, located close to the east bank of Outlet Stream. Sojkowski explained how the location minimizes interference with dam operations and how migrating fish will be steered into the entrance to the tracks. Sojkowski emphasized that this plan is not necessarily final, and the group welcomes suggestions from area residents. The cost is not firm – the range is from $100,000 to $500,000. The capacity of the fishway is so far an estimate: with about four feet for the alewives to climb, the current plan should accommodate up to a million fish a year.

The expectation is that construction costs would be paid by grants from federal, state and private agencies, not by the town. There could also be a maintenance fund, although maintenance work is expected to be minimal.

The major maintenance, Sojkowski told Public Works Director Eugene Field and the rest of the audience, would be a brief daily inspection to remove any branches or other obstacles. Either KWD personnel or Field’s crew could take that responsibility, Haines suggested.

Webber Pond Association President Frank Richards said when the pond’s fishway was installed in 2008, paperwork included a memorandum of understanding on maintenance with the state Department of Marine Resources. So far there’s been so little maintenance needed that he’s not had to look at the memo.

Selectman Lauchlin Titus said board members have a legal opinion that they need a town meeting vote to “alter” the town-owned dam, leading to an inconclusive discussion of whether the proposed plan would be an alteration. Sojkowski said there would be a big aesthetic change, but no change in the dam’s function – things like flow, flood capacity and water level control would remain the same.

Titus sees the fishway as an economic development project for Vassalboro, providing not only another place for trapping and selling alewives (as is done now at Webber Pond) but also an attraction for visitors comparable to Damariscotta’s or Benton’s alewife runs. Final plans will include places for people to watch the alewife run, not necessarily at the fishway.

Sojkowski expects to have a final design by this fall and to seek bids on the work probably in February 2018.

The rest of the selectmen’s June 29 business was mostly financial, including routine payment of bills.

They and budget committee members approved Town Manager Mary Sabins’ request to transfer $400 from the 2016-17 administration budget to the public safety budget, which would otherwise be slightly overdrawn due to the transition from one police chief to another.

Selectmen approved recommendations to carry forward 2016-17 funds for recreation, the East Vassalboro boat launch repair and a fire department project into the 2017-18 fiscal year.

The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening, July 13.

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